Tiny bait, lots of bait = a good time for droppers

I fished three marks in SoCo last night, and while the striper action was slow, the bait story was consistent: smallish to tiny, and lots of it. Confirmed sightings: silversides, anchovies, peanut bunker, and I may have seen a stray finger mullet.

My night began in the surf, but the meatball factor (bright headlamps used early and often) and a lack of action had me moving to Spot B, an estuary with a moving tide. Lots of bait, too few marauders.

I finished the evening at Spot C, some skinny water on flat, just as the tide began to flow out. Lots of worried bait in this location, and it’s a perfect place to fish a team of three. I had 2″ long Ray’s fly on top dropper, a Magog Smelt bucktail in the middle, and a micro Gurgler on point to do double duty as a suspender and waking fly. I was disappointed with the number of assembled diners, but it is what it is and you do your best. Two fish to hand in 45 minutes and I was satisfied, abetted in no small amount by a Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 corona and a come-from-behind Mets victory.

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a quick refresher.

Thank you, Penns Woods West TU!

My presentation season is in full swing. Last night I Zoomed with the Penns Woods West TU group, covering my first “The Little Things” program. We had an exceptional post-session Q&A, and I thank all those who came up with such insightful discussion topics.

I have to say this new normal Zoom presentation thing doesn’t suck. I’m probably not driving to Pittsburgh (the Penns Woods location) or farther to present under regular circumstances, but that’s not an issue with this technology. So, fishing clubs, come one, come all: Steve Culton has fly fishing presentations, will travel through cyberspace!

Question of the night: How do you keep a dropper rig from tangling? A: The joke response is, “don’t fish dropper rigs.” Here are my top three tips for keeping things copacetic. 1) Slow down your casting stroke and minimize false casts; 2) Make sure your leader lays out flat on the water; 3) Check your leader early and often for potential issues. If you make a mickey cast, haul that team of three in and eyeball it! Tangles get exponentially worse in the water. Here’s Dave showing us how it’s done. Dave was my first client this year to go an entire wet fly session without a tangle. Bravo, sir!

“The Little Things 3.0” public Zoom event, October 14 7:00pm

I’m pleased to announce that Middletown’s Russell Library will again be hosting me as a guest speaker. I’ll be presenting “The Little Things 3.0” via Zoom on Wednesday, October 14, at 7:00pm. This Zoom is part of their One Book series, and you need to pre-register through the library. The event is limited to 48 participants, and you must pre-register here. You cannot register through me or this website, and this is not part of the Zoom series I conducted earlier this year.

This is a unique opportunity to see this presentation outside of the usual club format. I’m hoping that plenty of currentseamsers will be in virtual attendance.

Here’s a “Little Things” freebie: big, chunky hoppers/crickets/Chernoble ants/wigglies this time of year. You may not get a strike, but if you do, it’s going to be a good fish. Shown here, my Hopper Hammerdown soft hackle.

It’s a Great Eight Hundred Followers Celebration!

Happy Tuesday, fellow Currentseamsers. Happy September, too. Where did the summer go? Seems like just yesterday I was heading out to Block with Jenks for some early summer stripers. Anyhow: Thank you for being part of the Great Eight Hundred! To celebrate, we’re doing our customary flies-tied-by-Steve giveaway. Here are the rules:

1) No purchase necessary.

2) You must be a follower of currentseams to enter. (If you’re not one already, you become a follower by clicking on the “Stay current with currentseams”  Sign Me Up button on the home page.)

3) To enter, leave a comment on this thread that responds to these questions: 1) How are you managing with the pandemic? Are you fishing more or fishing less? One entry per person. Deadline for entering is 11:59pm September 15, 2020. Three winners will be chosen at random. The winners will be notified in the comments section of this thread or by email, and will be responsible for sending me their address so I can ship the flies out. Sorry, I can only ship to U.S. addresses.

4) All decisions by me are final.

Thanks again for reading and following currentseams.

As Mick Jagger said, “You could be mine you could be mine all mine…”

Fly Fishing Club Zoom Presentations, or: Welcome to the new normal

I kick off my fall fly fishing speaking season tomorrow night with a Zoom presentation of “Wet Flies 2.0” for the Long Island Fly Rodders. I have mixed feelings about this as the LIFRs have always been gracious, welcoming hosts. (Not to mention they put together an outstanding pre-meeting cookout — heck, I even managed a smoke of a fine cigar last time and no, Ken A., I have not forgotten that I owe you a stick!) But the guest speaker Zoom is quickly becoming the paradigm in the Covid-19 era. I’m thankful that groups are still holding meetings, and want to hear from people like me.

September is already busy, so if your fly fishing club is looking for speakers, you know where to find me. And if you represent a club from far away (For example, I’m doing a Zoom gig for a club in Pittsburgh soon) what better time to get acquainted? If you’re the person in charge of finding a speaker, here’s my current presentation menu.

In the meantime, tight lines, stay safe, be well.

This is what I’m talking about! Burgers. Kielbasa. Fire. I surely miss this, friends.

Farmington and Housatonic River Conditions: Got them late summer, low-water blues

Despite yesterday’s storm showers, the northern part of the state is officially in a stage 2 drought. You don’t need me to tell you that — one look at the brown, desiccated patches (formerly known as lawns) in your neighborhood is the signature. Some rain tomorrow from Laura remnants may make a slight dent.

The Farmington remains viable, if a little low. MDC reduced the flow to 125cfs out of the gate. The Still is warm and painfully low, so it isn’t offering any help. At least the water coming out of the dam is still cold! The Hous isn’t much better flow-wise; this week it was in what I call “rock garden mode.” Naturally, not being a tailwater, the water temps are vastly higher than in the Farmington.

Challenging conditions for angler, for sure. I have a few tips to offer.

Pick and choose your time slots wisely. Earlier, later, and dusk/dark are the best times to target. I’ve recently experienced situations where I couldn’t buy a late afternoon strike; at dusk, the same water begins to simmer and it’s a fish on nearly every cast.

Go deep. It’s almost counter-intuitive: the water is low, so the fish must be looking up, right? Sometimes it doesn’t play out that way. If you think you’re uncomfortable in low water, the fish are even more so: stacked into deeper pockets, slots, runs, and pools. Holding on the bottom. And that B-word can be a difference maker. Sometimes a strategically drifted bottom presentation is your best bet.

Fish the hot water. You’ve heard me mention this before. If the water is white, bubbling, roiling, and boiling (think riffles and pocket structure) you should be fishing there.

Old Reliable dry/dropper — big/small. Get a Wiggly, Chernoble ant, hopper, cricket, big Isonychia dry — and drop a small (16-22) soft-hackle or nymph off the hook bend or on a dropper tag. This is a great searching method and a very effective way to cover two parts of the water column.

Catch ’em up!

Loch fishing, Scotland, August 2019. We need a few soakers like this.

Fun with Barr’s Meat Whistle

Barr’s Meat Whistle is another streamer pattern I’ve known about (and been meaning to tie) for years. But never got around to doing so until 2020. What I’ve tied up is actually good friend Tim Flagler’s variant, and I’m including Tim’s fine video tying lesson here. Tim calls the Meat Whistle “functional and adaptable” and I couldn’t agree more.

The Meat Whistle does double duty for trout and smallmouth (and dozens of other species) but I’ve only had the chance to use it as a smallmouth streamer. If you’ve been paying attention to my Instagram feed (stevecultonflyfishing) you know it’s been a challenging year for smallies. I haven’t done really well with it as a traditional streamer — its creator loves to hop and drop it along the bottom. But I had an eye-opening experience using a different method on Sunday.

The mark I was fishing was low and deep and at these low flows, not moving very fast. I knew the pool held a good number of fish, but they would not commit to surface bugs or a stripped or swung streamer. Given the amount of crayfish in the area — and the way crayfish scuttle along the bottom — I decided to try the Meat Whistle dead drifted along the bottom under an indicator. (Cue “ding-ding-ding” — or should that be “TWEEEEET!” sound effects here.) The takes were incredibly subtle, but I stuck and landed a decent number of bass. Man, this is one old dog who loves learning new tricks!

John Barr’s Meat Whistle (Tim Flagler Variant) in rusty crayfish colors.

Gettin’ Wiggly with it.

I’ve been doing some reading on low water smallmouth and trout tactics — ’tis the season — and I came across a fly family known as wigglies. In case you’re a newbie like me, they’re basically long foam-bodied spiders on steroids. They go by all kinds of names (Ol’ Mr. Wiggly, Mr. Wigglesworth, etc.). They’re not poppers; rather, they’re meant to be strategically cast and drifted. You let the bug sit on the film, and the current (and all those rubber legs!) do the work. If you move the bug, it’s only to move its legs — not the body. Work that one out.

I have to confess that at heart I’m a natural materials purist. But I’m also not above trying new things. And I embrace the concept of there being many, many ways. So while I basically dislike rubber legs, I see the parallel here with soft hackles.

I’m also obsessed with learning. This has been a difficult summer for smallmouth — the painfully low flows aren’t helping — and being able to conduct experiments in a laboratory known as a river is its own kind of wonderful. Yesterday the bass were indifferent to the Wiggly as a searching pattern. At dusk, when I cast to a rise ring, they bull-rushed the fly.

Speaking of experiments: anyone imagining a smaller, black Mr. Wiggly with a piece of yellow sighter material on top and a soft-hackle or nymph dropped behind it? Black cricket season is almost upon us…and the trout are hungry.

Ol’ Mr. Wiggly, size 2 and 4. You need some in your box.

Why I love topwater smallmouth

It’s been a tough year for smallmouth in terms of size and numbers, but I’m finding enough topwater action to keep me stoked. I’ll present a more detailed report on my summer adventures in the next few weeks, but for now this picture says it all. I’ve been getting a lot of action on Jack Gartside’s  Gurgler and my Countermeasures bug.

GurglerSmallie

Extra! Extra! Terrestrials (like the Drowned Ant)

This time of year, with river flows down and hatches spotty, do not underestimate the power of the strategically fished terrestrial. Dries, for sure, from parachute ants to mongo Chernobyls to beetles to hoppers and crickets. But don’t neglect the submerged terrestrial like my Drowned Ant. Here’s a link to a tying video and my original writeup on the pattern.

To quote the Delta Tau Chi Deathmobile float from Animal House, “Eat me.” (And let’s not forget that it’s Flying Ant season! Look for them on damp, humid days.)

Drowned Ant head-on